Making new things happen: innovating with Newie Ventures
After five years as a business owner and entrepreneur, Newie Venture’s Founder and Principal Engineer Heath Raftery looks back on the company’s journey from startup to fully fledged consultancy.
2020 marked a couple of major milestones for Heath and for his team. He and his wife welcomed their first child and moved into a new home. Newie Ventures brought on board a General Manager, John Lancken, to take the reins of business strategy. The organisation itself also relocated: they moved out of the Hamilton co-working space and incubator, eighteen04, and into their own office and workshop in Maryville. “It was always going to be sad to leave,” says Heath. “But we followed the correct path - we get nurtured and we fly the nest. Being based there meant we didn't have to worry about restocking the toilets or maintaining the kitchen or making sure the internet bill was paid: we could instead concentrate on the things that made our business unique.”
But 2020 wasn’t all about growth for Newie Ventures; they also shut the doors on several projects too, including MiniSparx, a popular after-school engineering program. “I canned so much last year,” says Heath. “But that's the whole point, that's what they say: you diversify when you haven't figured out your sustainable business model and then you focus once you've found it.”
Indeed, though Newie Ventures’ clientele and projects have altered over the years, one thing has remained consistent, and that’s Heath’s love of engineering and innovation. It’s these core values which have shaped the company’s path, and it’s satisfying to see them shine through not just in each of their projects, but in the Newie Ventures business model itself. Though Newie Ventures started life as a product-based business, the consultancy now prides itself on its strong service capability.
While the team spent their early days working on getting their flagship product – an IoT smart parking solution – to market, they managed to maintain an assortment of consultancy clients too. They’d inherited many of these projects from previous employers; the work involved a combination of software and hardware maintenance, support, and design. “When we were focused on our own product, we were spending a lot of time doing things that aren’t our core passion or capability: there were long lead times, long sale cycles, a lot of educating the market and promotion. We ultimately stopped promoting the product and focussed on the consultancy service instead,” explains Heath. “That was where we were kicking goals and delivering really good outcomes.”
Heath knew from his work with bigger organisations that a particular subset of these consultancy projects – those which required a high degree of creativity and innovation - were typical of the things larger businesses struggled with. “They always have the internal capability - they have bright engineers - but they don't have the structure to move quickly,” says Heath. “It's difficult inside a large established organisation, which has worked hard to get to the point where they can have a recurring business, to then say, ‘Let's go do something risky!' It's a cultural thing - you've got these structures, hierarchies, processes that are all set up to make sure you provide a safe recurring business. It's difficult to get risky projects over the line. That's where we come in.”
In bringing on board a consultancy to develop new ideas and solutions, organisations can outsource the creative culture necessary to get their projects off the ground, without disrupting their effective business model.
The organisation are now a team of 10 and still looking to expand. They work across agtech, renewable energy, safety, and health, priding themselves on their capacity to bring their client’s electronic engineering ideas to life. Of course, providing service to such diversity of customers and industries involves a lot of reliance on external advice, which is something Heath never shies away from: he knows what his business’s weaknesses are just as well as its strengths, after all. Thanks to the connectedness of the Newcastle innovation and startup community, it’s never too difficult to track down the right person to ask for advice, no matter how obscure your request might be. “It's a very tight knit group which is great because if you do get a recommendation then it's probably quality.”
Heath speaks fondly of his Newcastle community and is excited for the future of the region and the wealth of exciting new clients the innovation culture is sure to bring to his doorstep. “The city has gone through these massive transitions over the last one-hundred years and it's been in the doldrums of one for a couple of years now…but with national exposure on being the renewable energy powerhouse of the nation, and a CBD that's transforming, and just a whole bunch of people that recognise that they can do new things, and that we need capability of doing new things, as well as the infrastructure and political landscape…there is no better time to be making new things happen in Newcastle.”